Sunday 8 August 2010

Comme ci, comme ca.

Tuscany. Rolling hills, crispy sun and Italian charm. Every time I come back here, I love it more. The Italians have managed to strike the precarious balance between old world charm at modern day pace. In Tuscany that is teamed with natural beauty. Now tuft-like olive tree plantations  forming checkered patterns on sprawling beige slopes. Now flat sunflower fields sometimes dry, some yet blooming. Now vineyards of Sangiovese, ripening in the rays of the Tuscan sun. You can nearly feel it roll between your tongue, the wine they are destined to be. Even the bales of parched dry hay rolled up neatly add their touch to perfecting this picture. At day it enchants its visitors with these in the countryside, while its cities work their wonders with the cultural wealth acquired since the beginning of the European Renaissance. At night its hilltops lined by star spangled skies beckon again. A voluptuous woman lying there, baring her curves with an irresistible willingness .

This enchanting place of magical romance and beauty works on people. Inspirationally.

In our explorations we reached the quaint lanes of Volterra (yes the city of the Volturi vampires in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series!). There we came across an even quainter sight. In the middle of the pedestrian path, flanked by little shops with offerings of ceramics and Murano glass on either side, was this circular mat that didn’t quite make a circle. It had a radius of about 3 feet, had it been complete. On the mat was a curious collection of…well, junk really! Odd bits and ends raided from an assortment of rubbish, all wired and strapped together to form even stranger looking contraptions. One of them consisted of two rusty metal rods each with a kink half way to from knees for the creature it was supposed to be. Fitted with large green hand-crafted bird feet. Some further coiled apparatus, whose purpose was yet unclear, protruded mid way. Pulled over the top was an orange latex household glove and a little below were some bulging wobbly eyes and yet further below a twisted length of long metal bent into a hand. A smiling man stood on the mat, surrounded by the rest of his entourage which consisted of similar such specimens. One had a shower head, an air balloon inflated out from under it and two green latex gloves on either side of what was meant to be its head - which alternately doubled as hair or antennae. There was certainly a freedom of imagination allowed. The other, a telescopic papemach√© sunflower head connected to old shoes. All these were wired with little motors and thin rubber tubes. Supplying energy from various simple sources. An over-sized black hat placed at one end provided an explanation to the sight. ‘Circus comme si comme sa’.
He waited for a handful of people to gather till he ‘performed’. And what a show it was! These contraptions crafted so carefully from junk came to life, one after another. Walking, blowing, chattering, clanking. Forming chain reactions, triggering each other into motion. Painful precision must have gone into the conception, and building of each of these pieces of art. Yes, not junk, art! A German, he spoke neither Italian nor French. An inventor, a physicist, an entertainer, a comedian. He travels through the Tuscan towns providing street entertainment to anyone who would care to stop and watch. He says he lets his environment inspire him. For the rest, he believes in himself. In what he does. In creating art from junk. What pride he took in his work, how much pleasure he got from the successful mechanics of his creaky creatures.
People may stop, some may even appreciate it. However it turns out, success is already his.

A few streets ahead, at the Piazza dei Priori as we walked through the Cathedral, we were drawn by the strumming of strings, floating through the afternoon humidity, cooling the air it touched. In pursuit of the music, we walked out into the wide enclosure formed by the white and black stone striped Cathedral walls. There on the stone steps, hooked to a car battery, played a guitarist. Eyes closed and swaying with the waves of his own music. He created a one-man orchestra, strumming the melody and drumming the rhythm on the surface of his guitar in perfect harmony. Beside him and his car battery powered speaker, stood a plastic bottle of water and a lit cigarette - The only reasons he took a break from his strumming, other than to charm the kids around. His music was therapeutic. Beautiful in a spiritual way. An improvisation with elements of classical Spanish guitar with the virtuosity of Flamenco technique.  His audience, anyone within earshot; his eyes remained closed to them. He was a Spanish musician, who had gone through a formal education as a classical guitarist in Germany. Now he tours with his guitar, selling his cd’s along the way. He is his own marketing concept. He is his product.

Enchanted as I may be with Tuscany, time and time again, what do I take home with me? Enough carbohydrates to stock up for my fictitious Tour de France? That may well count as an accomplishment, considering the weight gain in time available relation, no easy feat I can assure you! I am in awe and stay in that dumb struck, gaping mouth, awed state. And then I go home. End of Disneyland tour, the ride stops. This is where everyone gets off. Either I stand back in line for another ride, or head home. To the easy comfort of middle class routine.

Would it matter to the musician or the circus artist if they were in Tuscany or Timbuktu? They are their inspiration. To wait for the person or place that would finally inspire us, is to live in the guilt of perpetual procrastination. Guilty as charged!

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